Tango in Russian.

I was so tickled by the link Dmitry Pruss (aka MOCKBA) provided here that I thought I’d feature it; how can I, who began studying Russian in Argentina and still loves hearing Carlos Gardel, resist a site that features gorgeous images, clips of tango music and dancing, and lyrics in Spanish and Russian? Without further ado: Переводы стихов танго [Translations of tango lyrics].

And while we’re on the subject, I was intrigued to see that OnEtDi has a more specific etymology of tango than I was aware existed (it’s usually “perhaps of African origin”): “from Argentine Spanish tango, originally the name of an African-American drum dance, probably from a Niger-Congo language (compare Ibibio tamgu ‘to dance’).” Anybody know more about this?

Comments

  1. There’s been a lot of speculation on this subject. Here’s an interesting paper for those who read Spanish: http://www.elortiba.org/pdf/tango.pdf. The author argues for a derivation from the Quechua “tanpu”, which refers originally to a meeting place or gathering.

  2. Jeffry House says:

    I’ll read that article! For the record, though, my sources deep within the Argentine folk tell me that it comes from French, “tanguer”, to sway. Maybe its Italian, too, I don’t know, but supposedly it refers to swaying of the ship in the ocean passage from Rome to Buenas Aires.

    Mr. LH never accepts this sort of word of mouth etymology, but I tenaciously hold on them.

  3. I may not accept them, but I enjoy them!

  4. JH: The first written reference to “tambos” (defined as “bailes de negros”) is from the first decade of the 19th century, before any significant Italian or French immigration to the River Plate. So it’s probably not the ultimate origin of the word. But perhaps “tanguer” or some related Lunfardism influenced the shift from -mbo to -ngo.

  5. marie-lucie says:

    French “tanguer”, to sway

    The verb refers to one of the motions of a boat or ship among the waves. I think the English equivalent is “to pitch”, a lengthwise, front-to-back motion as opposed to rouler “to roll”, a motion from side to side. The related nouns are le tangage and le roulis repectively. Tanguer can also be said of a person walking with difficulty on a ship, or under alcoholic influence.

    I have no idea about a potential relationship with Spanish tango.

  6. …and another, concluding that it is probably of African origin.

  7. In Flamenco there is a family of music & dance styles called tangos* that is distinct from the Argentine tango. Spanish Wikipedia says all theories of origin for the Flamenco style place its roots between Cadiz and Seville and it’s influence afterwards spread from there to Spanish America but it doesn’t cite a source for this. I sometimes wonder if there is any relationship between the words tango and fandango since they sound similar and fandango(s) is also a name given to a number of music and dance styles (with different rhythms) in flamenco and elsewhere in Spain and Latin America.

    *(Wikipedia has it written in the singular but in my experience flamenco tangos and fandangos are almost always named in the plural by dancers, musicians and aficionados as are some other flamenco forms.)

  8. Oh, I also just remembered the expression, “del tingo al tango” which means something like “back and forth”, “from here to there (and back)”, etc. Here’s a thread on it (in Spanish) from Wordreference.com:

    http://forum.wordreference.com/threads/andar-del-timbo-al-tambo-del-tingo-al-tango.1195068/

  9. Off topic, but have you listened to Pjotr Leschenko? White Russian musician who relocated to Bucharest, sang Russian Gypsy songs and Tango at Leschenkos Restaurant during the 1930s. Died in an internment camp near bucharest in 1954. His records were smuggled into Russia and were wildly popular. http://www.oriente.de/en/pjotr-leschenko1-en.html

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrqmwYJRXT4&index=7&list=RDHwBOFJCSC0o

    Tango was also very big in Finland at the time, and among Yiddish speakers both in Argentina and in Poland. The Rosner Brothers, the musicians portrayed in the film “Schindler’s List” actually mostly played tangos.

  10. CuConnacht says:

    If I recall corrrectly, the reference to tambos or bailes de negros that RL mentions is from New Orleans. I suppose this may mean that it has nothing to do with the Argentine tango. I prefer to take the position, at least in conversation with Argentines, that it proves that the tango was invented in (what is now) the USA.

  11. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    «“del tingo al tango” which means something like “back and forth”,»

    rock-‘n-roll!

  12. Off topic, but have you listened to Pjotr Leschenko?

    I have indeed; I learned about him and his music at Poemas del río Wang (see this LH post).

  13. Spanish Wikipedia says all theories of origin for the Flamenco style place its roots between Cadiz and Seville and it’s influence afterwards spread from there to Spanish America but it doesn’t cite a source for this.

    It was popular to explain Argentine tango etymology by the Andaluz flamenco style of the same name, especially because people felt uneasy about the Afro roots of the cultural phenomenon they liked (and conversely, critics who hated it spared no time in condemning tango as a vulgar and vile activity of the black neighborhood, rooted in Angola, even as late as after WWI).

    I’s not like Andalusian dance forms didn’t contribute a bit to the rhythmic canvas of early tango, but mostly indirectly through the Southern Spain-derived folk dances of the Argentine hinterland, such as escondido (rather than flamenco per se). In any case these influences seem to be trivial compared to the two other formative sources of the tango beat – the local Afro beats of candombe and the Cuban Afro-meats-Haitian-contradance rhythms of habanera.

    (Not like flamenco doesn’t owe its rhythms to Africa anyway – a different part of the same continent?)

    (BTW the more recent genetic data shows that across much of Spain – with a notable exception of the Basque Country – North African ancestry hovers about 10% of the gene pool. Its source is closer to Berber than to Middle Easterners, and a minor part of this gene flow is Sub-Saharan in origin, again the same as in Berbers. So not just culture and religion floated North across Gibraltar, but so did the genes too. Not that it ultimately matters for those crazy about purity, of course…)

  14. >> Tango was also very big in Finland at the time, and among Yiddish speakers both in Argentina and in Poland.

    Here’s and example of the Yiddish/Polish: the 1937 original of the tango used in the Russian movie “Burned by the Sun” – “Tо ostatnia niedziela” by Aleksander Cfasman. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cTLRYTVvl8

    And of course, the tango became the basis for many of the Jewish Odessa street songs, such as this one – “Na Deribasovskoi Otrylasya Pivnaya” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdkFes0Guwg

  15. many of the Jewish Odessa street songs such as this one – “Na Deribasovskoi Otkrylasya Pivnaya”

    the influence cut both ways, with Jewish fiddlers especially making strong impact on tango music (especially the romantic school of tango’s Golden Age lead by such virtuoso violinists as Raúl Kaplún).

    The Odessa classic you linked to is, of course, a remix of Ángel Villoldo’s 1903 hit, “El choclo”. Have you heard the other Russian-Jewish remake of it, “The tale of Kakhovka rabbi”, btw 😉 ?

  16. That Odessa song is wonderful; it made me laugh repeatedly and taught me new items of vocabulary like бандерша ‘madam; procuress’ (lyrics here). Many thanks!

  17. >> Have you heard the other Russian-Jewish remake of it, “The tale of Kakhovka rabbi”,

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEg4nntB4Sk&index=2&list=PLGf2syI8VyRbwHojk6yR6WGkCRgZlPDI3

    I’m not sure if you could call it a tango, though, although I can certainly see how it would have evolved from one…

  18. I actually played a nostalgic set of old Russian and Polish-language tangos, along with Argentine classics, at a tango festival in Colorado earlier this year. And I added bio snippets of many great musicians from this set as “DJ’s remarks” to my English-language blog. You’re welcome to read there about Piotr Leschenko, Oscar Strok, Eddie Rosner, Georgy Vinogradov, Mieczysław Fogg, and Jerzy Petersburski

  19. @languagehat,

    The lyrics of many of these Odessa songs are awesome…

    One of my favorites is this one( http://troitsa1.livejournal.com/296435.html ) – and apparently a variant was mentioned in Alexander Kuprin’s “Яма” taking place in the 1890s.

    For many years now, I’ve been trying to track down what kind of beverage is «Душистая фиалка» with no luck…

  20. 🙂 the version I recall went subtly differently,

    Али я не весел?
    Али некрасив?
    Аль тебе не нравится
    Да мой презервативM/I>?

  21. CuConnacht: “If I recall corrrectly, the reference to tambos or bailes de negros that RL mentions is from New Orleans. I suppose this may mean that it has nothing to do with the Argentine tango.”

    No, it comes from a resolution issued by the Montevideo Cabildo in 1807 which prohibits such dances. Text: “Sobre tambos, bailes de negros. Que respecto a los bailes de negros, son por todos motivos perjudiciales se prohivan absolutamente, dentro y fuera de la Ciudad, y que se imponga al que contrabenga el castigo de un mes á las obras publicas.” (Quoted in Lauro Ayestarán’s 1953 book La música en el Uruguay.) This citation illustrates that people in the River Plate were holding dances known as “tambos” as far back as the viceregal period.

  22. >> taught me new items of vocabulary like бандерша ‘madam; procuress’

    «У Одессы и общая lingva franka…я с негодованием отрицаю широко распространенное недоразумение, будто это испорченный русский. Во-первых, не испорченный, во-вторых, не русский. Нельзя по внешнему сходству словаря заключать о тождественности двух языков. Дело в оборотах и в фонетике, то есть в той неуловимой сути всего путного, что есть на свете, которая называется национальностью. Особый оборот речи свидетельствует о том, что у данной народности (одесситов – авт.) ход мысли иной, чем у соседа…Словарь, если подслушать его у самых истоков массового говора, совсем не тот, что у соседних дружественных наций, русской и даже украинской».

    В. Жаботинский, 1930 г.
    http://www.ta-odessa.com/side/2-informaciya/35442/

  23. Great quote!

  24. Doing a fandango on core.

  25. For many years now, I’ve been trying to track down what kind of beverage is «Душистая фиалка» with no luck
    Beverage? I am almost sure it must be (eau-de-)cologne. Not that it cannot (and was and is) used as…ahem…a drinking medium.

  26. I agree with D.O. See this comment by Aidan Kehoe:

    „Der Kauf von Eau de Cologne – auch “Intellektuellendrink” genannt – vor zwei Uhr nachmittags war verboten und im Übrigen auf zwei Flaschen pro Person beschränkt. Gleichgültig sahen Geschäftsleute mit an, wie verzweifelte Kunden noch am Tresen Flaschen mit Haartonikum hinunter stürzten.“

    “The sale of Eau de Cologne—also known as the Intellectual’s drink—before two in the afternoon was not permitted; after that time, each person was allowed two bottles. Sales assistants looked indifferently on as despairing customers knocked back bottles of hair tonic, not bothering to leave the shop to do so.”

  27. >Beverage? I am almost sure it must be (eau-de-)cologne.

    Possible, but it seems a little off in the context of the song. They’re at a pub – why would they be drinking cologne there? I am well aware of what people drank during Soviet times (everything), but I didn’t think it was this bad in the 19th century…

    But you may be right. Thanks!

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